The Dane County Bar Association recently asked its members to nominate "strange-but-true stories" to share at its annual Bench Bar Brawl, held April 22 at the Elk's Club. To spur recollections, it listed some possible topics, like "Most innovative legal argument."
A couple dozen nominations flowed in and were given to circuit court judges presenting at this event. But the judges used only some of what was generated, interspersed with their own anecdotes.
"The judges had some terribly funny stuff," says Bob Jordan, one of the event organizers. Agrees attorney Ruth Westmont, who compiled the responses, "People were laughing hysterically."
There's no recording of the event, but the local bar provided the submitted nominations to Isthmus on request. Thus we were able to cull our own favorites:
One attorney tells of a fellow lawyer who blurted out in court: "Objection, bullshit!" He says the attorney was cited for contempt. Apparently, not all judges have sparkling senses of humor.
Another lawyer recalls coming to court with "a very long ponytail," alongside a client charged with drug possession, and having former Judge Archie Simonson ask, "Which one of you is the defendant?"
Most creative criminal defense: A former assistant city attorney says legendary Madison lawyer Eddie Ben Elson once got the charges against his client tossed by tricking the arresting officer into identifying the man's identical twin brother in court.
Briefest brief: Local lawyer Gerry Mowris relates that, as assistant district attorney in the 1970s, he won a ruling from Judge William Eich after writing a response brief that consisted of only two words: "Quis quorat?" which is Latin for "Who cares?" The judge, says Mowris, "always liked concise arguments."
And finally, there was this nomination, for "Most ridiculous paragraph in a brief": "Like their liability theses, Plaintiffs' damage thesis is a flimsy but monstrous tower floating on the quicksand of false assumptions and nonapplicable law, whose bent, twisted and broken reeds are fragments of snippets of 'evidence' fastened only with the spit of hallucination. Lacking any foundation or strength, it melts in truth's light and heat, and, with greater ease than a dandelion, scatters in justice's soft breeze."
The attorney who submitted this, according to the nominator, ended up on the losing end of a $2.9 million civil judgment.